The number of U.S. corporate bankruptcies remained steady in the third quarter but mining- and energy-related bankruptcies surged, reflecting low oil prices.
BankruptcyData.com reported there were 7,636 bankruptcy filings in the quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with 7,616 in the second quarter. It was the fourth straight quarter where the bankruptcy numbers have remained flat.
So far this year, filings are down 16% compared with 2014, at 22,680, indicating that the seven-year downward spiral in bankruptcies since the financial crisis has leveled off. Filings averaged 120 per day in the third quarter.
“Low interest rates and out-of-court settlement alternatives have driven the number of bankruptcy filings down over the last several years and we anticipate that number to stay at this level in the immediate future,” BankruptcyData said. “With the recession eliminating many of the troubled companies, the remaining relatively healthy businesses are able to borrow with little fear of [an increase in interest] rates, keeping the filing rates down.”
But the third-quarter numbers were gloomy for the mining and oil and gas companies. The sector accounted for 10% of all bankruptcies, compared with a typical share of 1% to 2%. Of the sector’s bankruptcies, 44% were in coal mining and 24.4% were in oil and gas exploration.
For the first nine months of the year, moreover, mining and energy generated 25% of public company bankruptcies, more than any other sector.
“Many public and large private companies have raised huge amounts of debt over the last decade, and given the forces of the economy, we expect some meaningful fraction of those companies will not be able to pay off that debt when it comes due,” BankruptcyData warned. “This will drive the number of public and large private bankruptcy filings up.”
“We have already begun to see this in the mining and oil and gas industries and anticipate other sectors will be similarly impacted,” it added.